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This is my last Monday Morning Quarterbackcolumn for the Sports Illustrated franchise, and for the site I founded in 2013, The MMQB. I’ve been thinking about what to write and how to do it for the last couple of weeks. I just kept thinking, What I really want to do is thank people.

• Thank you, readers. The way I figure it: I’ve produced about 5.5 million words since 1989—my rough guess is about 4 million words in 21 years of MMQB columns, and about 1.5 million words in the magazine and for The MMQB. In the last couple of weeks, since I announced I’d be leaving this place on June 1, so many of you have reached out to say thanks. I’m humbled. I’m appreciative. There would be no me without you. Last week, a 30-ish guy on the 3 train on the west side of Manhattan said to me, “I’ve read you since I knew what football was. Thanks for everything.” SI’s reach and influence made that possible. We were good for each other.

• Thank you, Mark Mulvoy. In 1989, as managing editor of SI, Mulvoy put his trust in a 31-year-old guy who’d covered the NFL for just five years to write the Inside the NFL column for the magazine. Four months after he hired me, Mulvoy sent me to Philadelphia for the 49ers-Eagles game in September, to do some research on a future 49ers-after-Bill Walsh story. Joe Montana threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and Mulvoy called me in the press box and said, “You may be writing live,” and when I got back up from the locker room, he called and said, “You’re writing.” And a couple hours later he called and said, “You better have something good—you’ve got the cover.” JOLTIN’ JOE, with Montana on the cover in a classic passer’s pose, and my prose, showed up in 3.1 million American mailboxes four days later.

• Thank you, Eddie DeBartolo, for doing what I never knew owners did—in this case, leaping into Ronnie Lott’s arms as the clock ran out that afternoon at the Vet and yelling, “I LOVE YOU RONNIE!” DeBartolo wiped away tears as he told me how he loved this team. I’d see a lot more of that in the coming years.

• Thank you to Mulvoy and successors John Papanek, Bill Colson, Terry McDonell, Paul Fichtenbaum and Chris Stone, for giving me nothing but chances for 29 years. McDonell saw the potential in the wild west world known as the internet, Fichtenbaum handed me the reins to the microsite we christened The MMQB (with a salary cap to hire the people I wanted), and Stone never said no to anything important in the final few years. In a time of increasingly strangled budgets, all were progressive leaders.

• Thank you, Michael Irvin. “We’re playing in a Sports Illustrated game!” he shouted when I showed up in Texas during the week of a big game in 1991, when the Cowboys started to get good. That Friday afternoon, Irvin said he’d sit for an interview with me, but not at Valley Ranch. We got in his car, and he took me to a strip club, where we talked for an hour. Great interview. Interesting scenery.

• Thank you, Jimmy Johnson. For a lot of things. He’s as transparent a coach as I’ve covered in my 29 SIyears. The first time we talked extensively, at a seafood place in San Diego in training camp in 1990, Johnson spoke about the pain of his 1-15 rookie season, and he was so candid about how much it sucked that at the end of the evening, perhaps emboldened by four or six Heinekens, he looked me square in the eye and said, “Peter, if you f--- me with this story, I’ll squash you like a squirrel in the road.” When the Cowboys got good, he was always available. Johnson welcomed me on a pre-draft scouting trip in 1991 on Jerry Jones’s plane, opening up the real reason why the Cowboys were so good in the draft in those days. He and his minions—Butch Davis, as I recall, was a particularly good campus sleuth—found out which prospects were clean and, more importantly, which ones were not, hopscotching America in the owner’s plane. And he didn’t take himself too seriously. On that trip, a can of Paul Mitchell Freeze ’N Spray Shine hair spray went rolling down the aisle of the plane. All Johnson could do was laugh.

• Thank you, Steve Tasker, the most decent great player I have covered.

• Thank you, Frank Reich, for the 41-38 comeback to beat Houston in the wild-card playoff game in 1992. Talk about memorable—a backup quarterback erasing a 35-3 lead and winning a playoff game. I recently told Reich the story about the Houston TV guy—when it was 28-3, Oilers, at halftime—who made the nonrefundable airplane reservation for the next week, the next game, at Pittsburgh. It got to be 35-3 on a bad Reich pick-six in the third quarter, but all he kept thinking about was, “Just one play.” The Bills won in overtime. I waited for everyone to leave the locker room until it was just me and Reich left, talking about the greatest game of a backup quarterback’s life. He called over an equipment man, wanting to see his wife, and said, “Could you bring Linda in?” And when the door to the locker room opened, they hustled to embrace like they hadn’t seen each other in five years. “I love you,” Linda said, and I bet 15 seconds passed before he said anything. “Praise the Lord,” were Frank Reich’s words. That was a moment.

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• Thank you, Paul Zimmerman, a friend and a mentor and someone wholly opposite of me. You’re a brawler, a prove-it guy; I’m a peacenik, and my instinct is to trust. He was a crank, oftentimes a total crank. He’s not for everybody. But he was great for me. He taught me so much. One: Talk to the offensive linemen; there won’t be crowds around them, and they know why everything happens. Two: Avoid the crowds; get your own stuff. Three: Make people earn your trust. Four: Make your own decisions. Forget what others say or write. As you try to find peace in New Jersey a decade after your series of strokes, please know how many people say to me monthly, weekly: “How is Dr. Z? Tell him we miss him.”

• Thank you, Linda Zimmerman, for showing me—and so many others—what a loving and loyal and trusted-till-death spouse and partner is.

• Thank you, Deion Sanders. You know what I feel bad about? Not that he and I were once close and I wrote some stuff that royally pissed him off and we didn’t speak for, oh, maybe 10 years. (When times were good, I had his get-through-the-switchboard-at-road-hotels name, which was a tremendous gateway pseudonym to have in those days.) No—I feel bad that Young America doesn’t know what an incredible story and player Sanders was a quarter-century ago. In August 1992 he was a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Falcons, but he wanted it all. That summer he was a starting outfielder for the Braves, one of the best teams in baseball, and invited me up to his 19th-floor room in Pittsburgh after taking an 0-for-4 collar against Tim Wakefield. We talked about the big decision he had to make. The Braves would take him as a job-share guy; the Falcons wanted all of him. When I knocked at his door, he greeted me, shirtless, glistening with sweat, bat in hand. He’d been taking swings in front of the mirror in the room, desperate to get out of a mini-slump.

Just so people know. In 1992, Sanders:

• Homered off Orel Hershiser and David Cone during the regular season.
• Returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Washington in September.
• Hit .304 with 14 triples and 26 stolen bases in 97 games for Atlanta.
• Had a .588 on-base percentage in four World Series starts against Toronto in October.
• Intercepted two passes against in a game against the Patriots in November.
• Returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown against Tampa in December.

We met at the Super Bowl this past February, and he told me: “Football was my heart. I adored it. Baseball was my challenge. I don’t know if I loved it. I liked it. I wasn’t married to it. Football was my wife. Baseball was my girlfriend. I wish it would have been the opposite. There are chapters in our lives we feel are incomplete. You know, coulda, woulda, shoulda. I still have baseball dreams.”

• Thank you, Steve Young, for being the all-time mensch. He walked into an impossible situation—the Man Who Would Succeed Montana—and walked on eggshells for a time as he had to and handled it perfectly. Then he threw six touchdown passes, post-Montana and post-Bill Walsh, to win a world title in Miami in 1995. I covered Young postgame, and he was so dehydrated that he had to lie down in Miami hotel room and get two IVs from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue unit while family partied in his room. “Joe Who?!” someone in the crowd yelled. Young had the decency to call out, feebly, from the bed: “No, don’t do that. Don’t worry about that. That’s the past.” That’s class.

• Thank you, Brent Musburger, for saying this to me on my first night on TV, before the ABC Monday Night Football halftime show in a New York studio in September 1994 (I did a couple of minutes at halftime in the ’94 and ’95 seasons): “Don’t worry kid. I’ll take care of you.” He did. Every show.

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• Thank you, Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf, for letting me invade your space in Green Bay in 1995 for a week in the life of the Packers. That was one of the all-time enlightening experiences, complete with Brett Favre farting through team meetings (more about Favre in a moment) and a tremendous education in how a game plan is put together.

• Thank you, Steve Robinson, for urging me to start Monday Morning Quarterback at the new website CNNSI.com in 1997. That’s the year I got an email address. That’s how first-generation the internet was then. As my pro football editor for a couple of years before that, and then kicked upstairs to run this newfangled web thingie, Robinson needed copy to populate the site. Personalize it, he said. So I did. And thanks to my other web editors and checkers—wordsmith Stefanie Kaufman (as fine an editor and conscience as I had at the magazine), Chad Millman (yes, that Chad Millman, a fresh-faced IU grad), Andrew Perloff, Bobby Clay and now Dom Bonvissuto—for preventing more errors than Ozzie Smith over the years. Dom, especially, has been the keeper of the flame on so many ridiculously late Sunday nights and early Monday mornings in the last 10 years. He’s tireless and smart. I can’t thank all of them enough.

• Thank you, Brett Favre, for being the most compelling person I’ve covered in my 29 years here. This could take a while. In that ’95 week in Green Bay, when I met Favre, he said, “What? Nothing to write about [Drew] Bledsoe this week?” A jab on the media’s love of the New England quarterback. That week, Holmgren told the Packers that I’d be hanging around, and to give me time if I asked. When I asked Favre if I could come to his house one evening, it became three nights in one week.

So … what I found interesting was his tirelessness. I’d be there at 10, 10:30 at night, and I’d be nodding off after a long day, and he was buzzing. Turns out a few months later we knew the reason for the buzzing. He spent 72 days in a drug clinic in Kansas City to get off Vicodin. This weekend, we talked about that, and about the end in Green Bay, and I found out something I never knew: I thought he went to rehab to kick his addictions once. Triple that.

“Oh, I remember that week,” Favre said over the phone. “You thought, ‘Man, this guy’s high on life.’ You didn’t know there was a reason for it. It is really amazing, as I think back, how well I played that year. That was an MVP year for me. But that year, when I woke up in the morning, my first thought was, ‘I gotta get more pills.’ I took 14 Vicodin, yes, one time. I was getting an hour or two of sleep many nights. Maybe 30 minutes of quality sleep. I was the MVP on a pain-pill buzz. The crazy thing was, I’m not a night owl. Without pills I’d fall asleep at 9:30. But with pills, I could get so much done, I just figured, ‘This is awesome.’ Little did I know [fiancée and now wife] Deanna would be finding some of my pills and when she did, she’d flush them down the toilet.

“I actually went to rehab three times. I saw the most successful, smart people—doctors, professional people—lose it all, ruin their lives. A year or two before you saw me, I went to a place in Rayville, La., just outside Monroe. It was pills then too. Deanna and [agent] Bus [Cook] talked me into it. I didn’t think I had a problem, but they talked me into it. I went for 28 days. When I got out, I was able to control myself for a while. I wouldn’t take anything for a day or two, and I wouldn’t drink. But I was a binge drinker. When I drank, I drank to excess. So when I went in the second time, to the place in Kansas, I remember vividly fighting them in there. They said drinking was the gateway drug for me, and they were right, absolutely right, but I wouldn’t admit it. I will never forget one of the nurses. I had it all figured out. I fought with this nurse all the time. I would not admit the drinking problem. At the end she said to me, ‘You’ll be back.’

“I was back. 1998. Guess who was waiting there when I walked in—that same nurse. This time it was strictly for drinking. I didn’t go back to the pills. I admitted my problem, I was in there 28 days, and it worked. When I got out, the toughest thing was the first three months, because I had to change my thought process. When I played golf before, I realized the only reason I wanted to play was to drink. After a while, instead of thinking, ‘How many beers can we drink in 18 holes?’ I fell into a pattern of what could I do to get good at golf. I realized with each passing day I really didn’t like drinking.”

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Never thought the conversation would go this way. But that’s Favre. One time, for 90 minutes, we talked Slingblade.” He’d seen the movie once. He knew complete paragraphs of dialog, in that Billy Bob Thornton voice. No wonder Holmgren never worried about Favre learning plays. He had a ridiculous memory.  

One more story. Favre did a charity bike ride for Bo Jackson at Auburn, and retired Auburn football coach Pat Dye insisted Favre stay at Dye’s house. Dye took Favre for a house tour. He saw all the trophies and framed pictures, and listened to Dye tell his stories. When the 78-year-old Dye showed him the memorabilia, he said, “Here’s the stuff that really doesn’t matter.”

Favre said to me on Saturday night: “And it hit me. Someday, if I’m lucky, I’m gonna be 78 years old, and the crowd’s not going to be cheering anymore. The roar of the stadium will be long gone. Hopefully, like Pat, I’ll go out and plant a Japanese maple on my property and just live life. Talk to my family, my friends. That was a moment, with Pat, where I thought, ‘So that’s what it’s going to be like.’ And it’s good.”

• Thank you, critics. If we can’t take the heat in this modern-media business, and if we can’t admit our mistakes, we should get out.

• Thank you, all who did not want me to write about my personal life in my column. Your voices were heard. Ultimately, I did what I thought was best for the column and wrote about Montclair (N.J.) field hockey and softball, about my daughters in those games for five years, about coffee and beer, about the lives and deaths of my brothers Bob and Ken, about the lives and deaths of Woody and Bailey the Goldens, about politics, about the Red Sox, about my daughter Laura’s wedding to wife Kim, about our grandson Freddy. This is how I figured it over the years: Probably 5 to 10 percent of each column, at most, is the non-football stuff. The column is the longest pro football column on the internet, by far. If you skip over the non-football stuff, it’s still the longest football column on the internet, by far. So just skip what you don’t like.

• Thank you, Woody and Bailey. Writing about you, and about your deaths, was hugely therapeutic for me, and I think for some of the readers. The Bailey obit from 2013 is contained in this column.

• Thank you to the loud guy at Eagles camp in 2008. After the Favre retirement/comeback/Packers divorce/Jets comeback, I’d been writing a lot about Favre for weeks, and some guy in Bethlehem, Pa., yelled: “Hey Peter! There’s other guys than Favre in the league!” Good to hear what fans think, and not just the good things.

• Thank you, everyone else in the media and on talk radio and in social media who called me on my reporting mistakes on Deflategate and on the Ray Rice story. When we err in the media, we should be called on it, and we should admit our mistakes. When I talk to students, I often bring those up. I broke a trust you have in me. To this day, I’m chagrined over it.

• Thank you, Mike Silver and Tim Layden and Greg Bishop, for your trustworthy ears; and John Czarnecki, for your advice and counsel and friendship over 35 years.

• Thank you, Don Banks, for being my adviser-in-chief, and for talking me down from some bad ideas, and for telling me there’s another life out there, which I needed to hear. And for the 1957 Ted Williams baseball card.

• Thank you, Michael Strahan. We were town-mates for a few years in Montclair, N.J., and Strahan’s door was always open. I had no idea what he’d become, of course, but he, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Johnny Holland and Richard Sherman were the best I’ve met at explaining the complexities of defensive football. And Strahan told great football stories on top of that.

• Thank you, Paul Tagliabue, for emoting (I did see a few tears) the way all of America emoted after 9/11. Sitting in his office at the NFL four days after the towers fell, I’ll never forget Tagliabue sharing his vivid memory of walking down the streets in midtown Manhattan in the days after the event that changed us all, and smelling the acrid burning smell that wouldn’t go away in New York for days.

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• Thank you, John Walsh. In the fall of 2012, I met for lunch with Walsh, one of the cornerstone editorial giants in ESPN history. He asked me if I’d ever thought of running a football website on my own, with the budgetary support of a behemoth like ESPN. No, frankly, I hadn’t, though I’d been discussing some attractive and different editorial concepts at NBC, NFL Network, and SI. I thought about the Walsh idea a lot, and the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. In different ways, ideas like that one and other altogether different ones were possible at ESPN, SI and NBC. The more I talked to Paul Fichtenbaum at SI, the better such a site sounded. SI needed a jolt and a new project, and this fit well. Credit and thanks to Walsh—not just for that, but for his encouragement for years.

• Thank you, Bill Parcells. He taught me a lot about how football really works. I saw how some of his players didn’t like him treating 53 players all a little bit different. He didn’t care. He just tried to figure a way to get all 53 to play at their peak. I learned this from him: It’s not a one-size-fits-all league.

• Thank you, Mike Shanahan and Mike Martz and Matt Millen and Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff and Al Davis (yes, Al Davis), for giving me the peeks behind the curtains of the real game during my mid-career at SI. Theyallowed me to see drafts, game-plan meetings, team meetings (Shanahan gave me a riveting look at Saturday night Broncos team meetings before the ’05 AFC title game) and, in Davis’ case, the ability to see a little bit how his brain worked. The day before the 2004 draft, Davis showed me his office, which had four big TVs in a diamond shape on the wall opposite his desk. “Basketball, women’s basketball, baseball,” he said. “All the sports.” He loved women’s basketball. He was fascinated with UConn, how everyone was shooting at the Huskies but couldn’t take them down with any regularity. Stupidly, I tried to test Davis, who was 74.

“Got a quiz for you,” I said. “Who took Diana Taurasi with the first pick of the WNBA Draft?”

He made a noise that sounded like Pfffffft. I’m sure Amy Trask and Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden heard it a hundred times. “Oh come on,” Davis said. “That’s easy. Phoenix.”

• Thank you, Mike McGuire. I met this active-duty Army sergeant at a St. Louis Cardinals game—he had a PUJOLS jersey on—in 2005 on my training camp tour. He was here to learn some leadership skills at a nearby base before leaving for Iraq, commanding a platoon of 30 men, mostly between 18 and 21. “IED-hunting,” he told me. “Improvised Explosive Devices. Our job is to find them and neutralize them so they don’t kill people.”

Rube that I am, I asked: “I read about people dying every day because of these devices. Aren’t you scared?”

“Well,” he said, “you try not to think of that. I have 30 kids in my platoon to worry about. I’m not scared for me, really. I’m scared for those kids.” All I could think was: I’m going to watch a football practice tomorrow. This guy’s going to learn leadership skills so he can command 30 kids in the most dangerous job on earth.

We kept in touch. A year later he sent this email, from the front, with the subject line “Pray for my men, Peter—Mike McGuire:”

“How do I start off this letter? 21 Sept 2006 is burned into my mind. I was out with my 1st squad doing a regular sweep of the area when we had to dismount the vehicle and trace wires to a suspected IED. The IED exploded and wounded two of my men very bad. SPC Regusci is on his way to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington as I write this and SPC Huerta should be right behind him. The men will live but they are badly hurt and I can’t go into details because it hurts too much. Earlier in one of your Monday Morning Quarterback columns you wrote about Sgt. Bevington. Well, he did not make it from the blast. His life was claimed by the blast. It was a horrible sight to see, my men like that. And it pains me deeply. Sgt. Bevington was thought of very deeply by me and the entire platoon. This is something that I will never get over. I keep thinking how did I survive and he did not? I was only about five feet away. I feel so sorry for his family and friends. He was like a son to me. So young. I can’t explain the grief. It's devastating. He is my hero and will be missed the remainder of my days. Mike.”